Let’s Have a REAL “Earth Hour”
March 30, 2009, 11:10 pm
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Of course I totally support Earth Hour but in my book it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

For those who don’t know what “Earth Hour” is or was, I gather it’s a very special hour once each year wherein people are supposed to abstain from one aspect of civilization. In particular: artificial lights and such. This is a fantastic idea (and so, so good for the Earth, which I bet totally noticed) because, as everyone knows, human civilization is bad for the Earth. BAD.

But artificial light is only one trapping of human civilization! I was shocked and chagrined to observe that there were so many others that kept right on going, blasphemously, all through Earth Hour. Things such as: the artificial (and sinfully non-tree- or cave-shaped) shelters we’ve built for ourselves, the clothes we wear, the language and writings we’ve created to transmit/record our knowledge, our laws and social arrangements, and our heat, which stems from the original sin of them all – our fire. How can we justify continuing all of those things during so-called “Earth Hour”?

Next year during “Earth Hour” I want to see – at minimum – buildings razed and people walking around naked cannibalizing each other for (uncooked) food.

Because it’s for the Earth.

Questions You Can’t Ask
March 30, 2009, 11:14 am
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Steve Sailer asks if Indians just like memorizing stuff. As usual when reading Sailer, a little nagging voice went off in my head – call it my internal lefty conscience, bred sometime between 4th and 9th grade I suspect – saying “you can’t say that!”

Because you can’t say that one race or another ‘just likes’ doing X or even allow for the possibility. Right? That’s, um, racist or something.

When I was growing up there was a public-service ad campaign one one of the local TV channels about racism (which seemed to back to earlier times & was still in constant rotation, heightening the sense of unease because of the outdated fashions/slang). This TV station was always running weird, fuzzy, ’70s-vintage public service ad campaigns. In one of them, which I rather liked, a bunch of different soft-focus beautiful scenes were played over Italian mandolin music, and at the end some (I gather) Italian-American kid goes “I’m proud to be an Italian-American.” Which is hilarious to me now because I never would have suspected there had ever been any bad feelings towards Italian-Americans to correct in the first place had I not had to puzzle over why this ad was ever created. Another one in the same series had a kid being proud to be Chinese-American. (I don’t remember which other subgroups the creators of that ad series decided needed to be told to be proud about themselves.)

But the ad I’m recalling now was against racism and one of them puzzled, frightened & creeped the heck out of me every time it came on. It showed a little white kid walking with his grandfather (I think they may have been fishing), and the kid said something like, My friend so-and-so is lucky he can’t get sunburned because he’s black. And the grandfather said something like: that’s prejudiced! This scared the heck out of me because I had no idea what was “prejudiced” (a word I first heard on that ad, and had to look up in the dictionary) about what the kid said and couldn’t figure it out. My gosh, I’m just realizing now that I thought about it a lot! You know what else? I’m still not sure I know! So if some random, innocuous thing the kid had said touching on race was “prejudiced”, what was one allowed to say or observe? I had no idea!

I believe this confusing muddle is how a lot of white people learn about racial issues. (Perhaps that explains President Obama, but that’s a different topic.)

Now, I might be remembering the ad wrong, but the point is that’s how I ended up remembering and internalizing it. That’s what I got from it: some innocuous thing you say could turn out to be “prejudiced”, and that’s really really bad in a way that will make even your grandpa turn up his nose at you. So watch it! I’m afraid that most of the things we’re ‘taught’ as kids by well-meaning teachers, or self-anointed teachers, or even a few not-so-well-meaning teachers, on this subject are equally ill-posed, vague, and arbitrary.

That’s how the little voice got in my head that cries ‘you can’t say that!’ whenever I see a question such as posed by Sailer. You can’t say that one race/nationality likes X. All races/nationalities have all human properties equally-distributed. That’s what you have to say.

The truly ironic thing is that in this case the ‘correct’ idea is anti-diversity. If someone believes in ‘diversity’, they necessarily believe that some races/nationalities have statistically different properties, propensities, and tendencies than others – and so it’s perfectly fair to ask whether Indians like memorizing stuff. If that weren’t true there’d be no such thing as ‘diversity’ at all; at least, ‘diversity’ would be a pretty hollow/shallow notion that had only to do with different cuisines. Which can’t be right, because ‘diversity’ is so important. Right?

I don’t know whether I think Indians just like memorizing stuff more than other nationalities, but I do know that, contra my internal lefty conscience voice, it’s a perfectly fair question.

Global Warming, Simplified
March 29, 2009, 10:10 pm
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The global warming issue really boils down to two questions:

1. What sorts of future climates is it within our power to arrange for?

2. What’s the best one, all things considered?

Question 1. has to do with feasibility. Not all conceivable future climates (mild spring days, every day!) are humanly possible to create, even given infinite resources. Of course we know one that is: the ‘status-quo climate’, i.e. the one that will be in our future if we take no conscious actions either way. That is certainly possible to arrange for. There may or may not be other significantly-different possible future climates we could create, or a range of climates (the idea that decreasing/increasing CO2 would act like a thermostat that cools/heats the earth is clearly contemplating one such range). These need to be identified, and the actions needed outlined, by anyone wishing to discuss Things We Should Do To Improve The Climate For Us intelligently.

Question 2. on the other hand is about preferences, effects, and (importantly) costs-benefits. Not all possible climates would be equally ‘good’ for all people. It’s not always obvious how to even define ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’. Or how to weigh alternative forms of goodness (or badness). And ‘all things considered’ is a key phrase here! If Climate X would be idyllic and wonderful, but bringing it about (rather than nearly-as-good Climate X’) would require a massive genocide and enslavement of the survivors, then count me out, and I say let’s just go for X’.

Notice one question that is irrelevant to the issue: whether ‘global warming’ is taking place right now, or has been taking place recently. Who cares? Notice another question that is irrelevant to the issue: whether humans have ’caused’ global warming. Who cares?

Neither of these questions matter! The only questions that matter are 1. and 2.: What futures could we arrange, and which one – out of those – should we arrange?

If questions 1. and 2. could be answered, the path would be clear: do the things (from 1.) needed to create the best climate (from 2.), and we’d be done.

Question #1 is mostly, if not purely, a scientific question. In my opinion, what most people fail to understand is that question #2 isn’t. Although science can inform the answer, at root it’s an inherently political question, and always will be. So people who claim to get their opinion on global warming from ‘science’, or that the entire question should be settled ‘based purely on the science’, are in effect saying that they haven’t thought the issue through, haven’t considered the full scope of the matter, and don’t want others to either. In a way they’re being anti-science.

How we address global warming intrinsically has a political dimension. Science is not about ignoring important dimensions of problems. It can be about ignoring unimportant ones, if necessary. The global-warming enthusiasists who style themselves “pro-science” are actually doing the opposite.

So Much More Pathetic Than Patrick Dempsey
March 29, 2009, 1:57 am
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I get the impression that there’s a low-level ‘populist’ anger against the finance sector brewing. At least, that’s the picture the media wants to paint us. Also there’s the fact that someone I work with got yelled at by her neighbor, I guess.

One one level I understand the anger about things like bailouts, high executive pay, and high profits while socializing high risks. Sure.

But on another level the animus doesn’t quite make sense. Why are people mad? You’re probably gonna say: because they’ve lost jobs, their homes have lost 30% of their value, their mortgages are underwater, and their 401k’s are down 50%. That’s your answer, is it?

Let me ask you this: why was their house and 401k so highly valued in the first place? for some of these people you could even ask, why did they have that job in the first place? Because there was a bubble. And this is not meant as praise, but still: financiers are the ones who made that bubble, you ingrates.

The point is that it makes little sense to be angry about people you blame for taking away something that (a) you never really ‘had’ in the first place (i.e. “Zillow said my home was worth $1.5 million!!!”) and (b) you only ever thought you had because of their actions. At worst, you were tricked into thinking you were richer and more coddled than you actually are.

Poor you!

It’s as if the Patrick Dempsey guy in the movie Can’t Buy Me Love got mad at the girl he paid to pretend to like him in the first place so he could be popular for the fact that he wasn’t actually popular. Wouldn’t that have been pathetic?

Did finance screw up? Yes, I believe so (though I believe that government screwed up more, if possible). But let’s not forget that one of the side effects of their screw-up was that millions of Americans ended up swindling China and Dubai into buying fricking McMansions for them so they could walk around feeling rich and high on the hog for the last decade-plus. There was even a g****mn TV show called “Flip This House” for crying out loud!

The current tantrum against finance – if there really is one – amounts to millions of people saying “Hey! you took away my pyramid scheme! just when it was working so well!” And many of the government solutions people clamor for, and which this and the previous administration have attempted, amount to saying: “Let’s bring it back!

Which is like the Can’t Buy Me Love guy ending the movie by trying to pay the girl even more so he can have his trumped-up popularity back again.

That’s not a movie I ever wanna see.

Obama’s Comedian Samurai

It’s a bit late to still be writing about the Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer episode, but it brought out a point I wanted to make before I forget. The salient point for me was never whether Jon Stewart was “right” in his criticism of Cramer or CNBC. I actually took the time to watch the clip, and Stewart made plenty of perfectly-valid points, and Cramer did not acquit himself well at all.

But the real issue always was this: why was Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, even talking about this stuff in the first place? Tune into this thing in the middle and you might assume this was the culmination of an investigation of some sort. But in reality Cramer was there after a sequence of events which traces back through Stewart’s response, to Cramer’s written criticism, of Stewart’s original diss of CNBC. And the question is: what prompted Stewart’s original diss of CNBC?

The answer is that CNBC’s Rick Santelli had criticized President Obama’s policies on-air. So The Daily Show decided to slam CNBC. Period.

For all his posturing as waging an important critique of CNBC’s business reporting and its role in the financial crisis, and speaking up for those harmed by market events, and granting the fact that his criticisms had merit on their face, the reality is that I doubt Jon Stewart would ever have talked about, mentioned, or noticed CNBC (let alone Rick Santelli) in the first place had this not happened. Had what not happened?

Had Santelli not dissed his man, Obama.

A lot of energy is expended in life, on the air, and on the ‘net in the service of political arguments. I guess what I’m saying is that most of these aren’t genuine arguments. They are not folks on two sides of an issue engaging in sincere, open-minded dispute seeking to learn truth. They are teams, cliques, tribes – sides. Folks defending their side. Jon Stewart clearly has a “side”. And (unfortunately) he also has a platform, The Daily Show, a comedy show way past its sell-by date that was originally set up with the far-funnier Craig Kilborn as host.

Essentially, people like Jon Stewart (consciously or not) see themselves as a loyal samurai to their Democratic-Party lords: threats to their rule and honor and greatness, and criticisms of their actions (whatever they are, whether they have merit or not) must be met in force. That’s the samurai code.

The fact that someone named Rick Santelli had dissed his “side” came to Stewart’s attention, one way or another. So he, and his writing staff, who are obviously intelligent and clever people, sprung into action, and used their platform to craft what amounted to a counterattack – the original embarrassing-to-CNBC clip which (ultimately) roped Jim Cramer into the dispute.

Now, notice that their counterattack made little effort to rebut, dispute, or even really address the substance of what Santelli had said. Likewise nor did Stewart make any attempt to defend or even discuss administration policies whatsoever. Indeed many observers to the brouhaha may not even be aware of what Santelli said or why Stewart even started talking about CNBC. Essentially The Daily Show successfully changed the subject. This may just be because Santelli’s rant itself wasn’t juicy enough to crack jokes about & attack, so the Daily Show staff simply widened the net and targeted all of CNBC, basically by digging up ‘gotcha’ clips from the past (which, let’s note, casts doubt on the current meme that The Daily Show is some sort of useful corrective to mainstream news). So this is why the controversy ended up becoming “about CNBC” and even Jim Cramer (note to Daily Show writers: technically, Jim Cramer is a totally different guy from Rick Santelli).

Understandable enough. But seen in this light, the “controversy” takes on a slightly different flavor. Superficially, it had the characteristics of a political dispute about current events – one guy said one thing, other guys said other stuff, and back and forth like that, and the dispute referenced markets and the economy and certain troubles of the day. But the root of it all was: your guy dissed my guy so we’re gonna diss you.

What was missing from the whole thing was any genuine discussion of substance on the original points (which, by the way, I don’t necessarily think had merit). Even though the controversy was cloaked in a thin veneer of having to do with substantively arguing with CNBC/Santelli about the markets and such – and, importantly, benefitted from the perception that that’s what Stewart was doing – all that was really going on here was Stewart saying diss my guy, will ya? well let’s see how you like THIS. And then setting out to destroy and embarrass CNBC by association and by bringing in red herrings (such as whether CNBC commentators predict market behavior accurately).

The result is that a controversy that began by Rick Santelli criticizing actual policies ended up being about Jim Cramer vs. Jon Stewart. Like who’s cooler? Who’s lamer? Isn’t Jon Stewart cool?

The reason I bring all this up is because I don’t think this was the exception. I think this illustrates the norm in our political conversations. It’s not just Jon Stewart, it’s everyone. It is very seldom that I encounter or stumble upon anything resembling what I would recognize as a real, genuine, open-minded political debate; most of the time what I see is instinctive, reactionary “my side”-ism. As a result I get easily bored and disinterested in politics (and hence have little to blog about).

To turn Jon Stewart’s razor back against him: he (like Jim Cramer, only more so) has a TV show that a lot of people watch. He could be using that platform to bring up, talk about, and hash out political issues in a stimulating and informative (yet still, of course, funny) way. But instead he uses it for what is obviously motivated by naked, transparent side-defending maneuvers1, and yet pretends that’s not what he’s doing (and garners acclaim for being a sincere spokesman for truth – something he most certainly is not). And that’s why the guy rubs me the wrong way. Not because I think he’s “wrong” (I don’t, in this case!), or even (as the more common criticism goes) that he hides behind the comedic platform to launch his attacks, but simply the fact that he’s a phony who’s motivated solely by partisanship and pretends he’s not. No conversation is truly advanced by this.

Ok, I guess I also don’t like him cuz I’ve never thought his comedy was worth a damn, even back in the days of the UPN talk show, and before that the MTV talk show, and before that the appearances on VH1’s standup-comedy shows, etc., and yet somehow we’re still stuck with the guy. Yeah, there’s that too.

1Although, to play devil’s advocate, I’ll admit the thought crossed my mind listening to his comments (many of which seemed to dwell on CNBC’s role as prognosticators and all the people who supposedly rely on them for financial advice) that perhaps Stewart sincerely and legitimately feels burned by CNBC due to making specific investments/financial decisions based on their commentary & losing a lot of wealth from his personal portfolio (which of course is still measured in the tens of millions). If this were his motive, I would have to retract most of the above, although it would convert Stewart’s little-guy-defender’ism into a different sort of hypocrisy and phoniness.

March 24, 2009, 11:56 pm
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Cleanin’ up those stars

March 22, 2009, 9:58 pm
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On the matter of the 90% bonus tax.

  • This issue is hopelessly polluted by the fact that on Wall Street, what gets called a ‘bonus’ is what normal people would call ‘the rest of my salary that the company’s been keeping from me’. For the rank and file bank employee, this isn’t a bonus-bonus in the sense of “because you did an extra-special job, here’s a little something extra”. It’s the rest of your f**king salary, because the bank has been underpaying you all year for those 60+ hours/week you work, dangling the ‘bonus’ (the possibility of reaping a bounty in a good year, the threat of getting the shaft in a bad year) as a carrot and/or stick.
  • Another complication is that people judging this situation, including Congress, bandy about these as raw numbers without factoring in cost-of-living. I realize that $250k for a couple w/kids living in the suburbs in the middle of the country means you’re upper class: at the very least you have a McMansion, 2+ SUVs, a plasma TV with surround-sound in your entertainment room, and plenty of college savings. But $250k for a couple w/kids living in Manhattan means you live in the f**king ghetto next to the housing projects, have a ‘kitchen’ which can only hold one person at a time, and when you take your kids on walks you have to dodge the drug addicts. I exaggerate only slightly.
  • The calculus is, on the other hand, different for the executive types whose bonuses are measured with 8 digits. No one would defend the bonuses AIG has given on their merits. The problem – and what pisses me off – is that what the House has now passed will mostly affect the rank and file, not the AIG idiots everyone’s probably thinking of.
  • Perhaps what this episode illustrates more than anything else is that the “bonus” system on Wall Street is totally insane. I don’t know how it evolved but it is ridiculous and would not be missed, were Wall Street to adopt a more normal and sane means of compensation, i.e. giving people most of their salaries as salaries.

Full disclosure: no, as it’s currently written, I would not be affected by the 90% rate, so that’s not where I’m coming from with this. But I do know people who will be affected, and it’s going to be a shock to them if it goes through. These “bonuses” are budgeted into their lives. Our friendly, mentally-stunted sociopathic demagogues in Congress are now entering the dark territory of f**king with the lives and plans of a lot of good people (and their families) – most of whom probably voted for them and their party – just so they can be grandstanding moralists and pretend to care about wastage of taxpayer money. And hopefully distract you from the fact that they’ve already wasted a thousand times as much by throwing the money at AIG in the first place, passing bills these geniuses didn’t even f**king bother to read.

Whichever way this goes down, the fallout from this is not going to be pretty.


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